Wellsville

(This column was first published in the October 14, 1996 Buffalo News.)

Intrigued by my colleague Michael Bebee's column about the annual Wellsville Ridgewalk that is associated with their cross-country runs, I called the event chair, Rich Shear. Could he help me with logistics to walk the 9 mile course before his October 20 event?

"Glad to," he responded and we planned to meet in the village.

I drove south early on the day of the Southern Tier's first heavy frost. Along Route 400 the countryside remained almost completely green, but beyond Arcade roadsides were lined with frost crystals and autumn colors became increasingly evident. It seemed odd to travel south to encounter a more advanced fall until I recalled two other influences: distance from the moderating big lakes and increasing altitude.

I followed Rich's pick-up truck south from Wellsville several miles into the hills. The morning fog that slowed me along Route 19 had lifted and it was a lovely clear day. By the time we reached Rich's home, which also serves as the north end of the Ridgewalk and the south end of the runs, the temperature had risen into the 50s, just right for hiking.

Leaving my car there we headed still further south to the beginning of the trail at Alma Pond. Through the mist rising from the lake we saw what appeared to be a loon. In my binoculars it resolved into a double-crested cormorant, a nuisance species that has spread through western New York in the last decade.

I had expected Rich simply to drop me off at the trailhead, but he joined me on the hike. Thank goodness. The trail was not yet fully blazed and I would never have found my way.

Needless to say, the hike was well worth my trip. Each fall I enjoy our Western New York foliage still more, perhaps a sign of diminishing memory.

A long climb took us up to the highest ridge in New York west of the Adirondacks and Catskills. From that height, well over 2500 feet, we had several views to the south where we could see a washboard of similar ridges, the farthest ones in Pennsylvania. The hillsides were about half green, the remainder a mix of bright yellows and oranges with occasional flashes of red and purple. Later we would have views to the east and north, each outlook more breathtaking than the last. The Ridgewalk date, Rich informed me, will be beyond the peak of colors but, with some leaves fallen, the views will then be even more spectacular. On this beautiful day I found that hard to believe.

The trail itself is interesting and varied. It passes mostly through open hardwood forests, the penetrating light allowing vast areas of ferns to flourish, but there is also a high grassy meadow that reminded me of the southern Appalachian balds and a place called Big Rocks where a tumble of limestone told me how close we were to Pennsylvania trails. There we found the vivid orange berries of mountain ash and mountain laurel that will blossom next spring to make this an equally beautiful spot then.

Sign of turkey and deer was everywhere and Rich occasionally even sees bear here. Only asters, goldenrods, and a few wild carrots were still in bloom, but mushrooms were abundant, further evidence of our wet fall.

This coming Sunday these 2, 6, and 9 mile Ridgewalks and the associated 5 and 12 km runs will allow participants to enjoy these beautiful fall colors and wonderful vistas. If you are interested in joining them, contact the Wellsville Chamber of Commerce at 593-5080 for information and entry forms.